Family Law in the Time of COVID-19: Living under One Roof

By Anna S. Karczag, Esq.

These are very challenging times and even more challenging for those who are in the midst of a divorce, a custody dispute, a support dispute or property order, or in need of a restraining order, or a combination of any one of those issues.   A divorce is one of the most emotionally devasting times in a person’s life.  And adding Covid-19 quarantine measures will certainly exacerbate the emotional stress and can lead to anxiety, depression and aggressive behavior.

Although the federal government has told us that each person is to receive a cash payment of $1,200 and an additional $500 per child, what about those who do not qualify for these payments due to the limitations set by the government that disqualify them for cash assistance?  Yet, those people are just as likely to suffer huge financial losses and difficulty paying bills in the months to come without any federal relief…even if not in the near future.   What if a parent in a shared custodial case does not comply with the CDC guidelines for keeping a family safe?  What if one spouse is ordered to make the payments on the mortgage yet just lost his or her job? These are issues that will arise for many for which there is not always a satisfactory answer.  I will try to address some of them here.

Restraining Orders  

The current stay-at-home order can cause an already difficult situation to be more stressful and can lead people to behave badly.  Courts are open for emergency matters and Applications for Temporary Restraining Orders are considered emergency matters.  Most courts have extended the expiration of temporary restraining orders so that they do not expire during a period when the courts are closed.  As a result, if there is a situation that warrants the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order, please contact your attorney or Legal Aid to assist you.   Also, as usual, local law enforcement will issue an emergency protective order that will give you five days of temporary protection in the interim.

Custody Disputes

Now is a time to be as flexible as possible with custody issues as long as both parents are complying with the CDC guidelines and the California stay-at-home order.  If a parent is being non-compliant and putting you or your children at unnecessary risk, it is okay to seek the advice of your lawyer, Child Welfare Services and/or your local law enforcement agency.   Keep in mind that FaceTime visitation or Skype visitation has worked well for decades for families where each parent lives in a different part of the State or country and will work now during this pandemic as a safe way for visitation.

Support Orders

It is imperative that anyone under a child or spousal support order, who has had a change in circumstances concerning their employment situation such as a reduction in income or a layoff, contact a family lawyer immediately and file a Request for Order for a modification of support.   Although many of the courtrooms are closed and not hearing support matters, modification of support orders are retroactive (in most cases) to the date of the filing of the RFO, irrespective of when the actual hearing date is set or occurs.  Have your documentation ready to prove the change in income and email the supporting documents to your lawyer so he or she can prepare the necessary paperwork to submit to the court.  Until the support order is modified, the current court order remains in effect.

Emotional Support

While this can be a time for families, parents and children to slow down the pace and appreciate the beautiful things in life that we are often too busy to notice or to do long postponed  household projects,  pick up cooking skills, etc.,  it also can be a time for undue stress upon a family who has to make due with less income, little exercise, and cooped up perhaps with family members with whom they may prefer not to be around, especially if a divorce is pending and spouses still share the same residence.  Seeking out professional guidance can be essential to maintain one’s sanity.  It is more important now than ever to take advantage of the therapists who are offering internet therapy sessions so that these feelings can be processed.  Many churches and spiritual centers are now offering virtual services and community support on their websites.  We are all in this together and we will get through it and, as they say, we will be stronger than before.

To discuss the above topic, please contact Anna Karczag at anna@encorelaw.com, or any other Encore Law attorney.

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